The Planetary Society is pretty excited about NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid 1999 RQ36, but they do have some issues with the asteroid itself. It seems they aren’t that happy with the name, so they’ve decided to do something about it with a science outreach contest. They are teaming up with MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory and the University of Arizona to give students the chance to name the asteroid something that doesn’t sound like a robot’s designation on Star Wars. It’s a cool contest and it may just answer that age old question: What kid doesn’t want to name their own asteroid?
While the Planetary Society is hoping to give 1999 RQ36 a name that more easily rolls off the tongue, unfortunately the makers of the Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) could only give their spacecraft an easier name through NASA’s prodigious use of acronyms. The mission will map and return samples from the asteroid that is slated to possibly impact the Earth in 2182. It is hoped that study of the sample materials back on Earth will provide insight into the chemical and mineral makeup of asteroids that could be used as a future resource. The mission is scheduled to launch in 2016 and return its sample to Earth in 2023.
The contest will go through Dec. 2, 2012 and is open only to students 18 and under by going to the Planetary Society’s website. Any students looking to name the asteroid something stupid like “Noobzsmacker2182” will be sorely disappointed as it has to follow the accepted naming guidelines for astronomical objects, with an explanation as to why it would be a good name, with a parent or teacher’s help. Just know that if you try to name it after yourself, your name could be permanently attached to any symbiotic alien zombie virus that gets unleashed on the Earth when the sample returns. Okay, I’ll grant you that that would be even cooler, but it might make it a little harder to get a date in the future.
Here’s NASA Planetary Science’s explanation of the OSIRIS-REx mission.